January 2016
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COMPASSIONATE & COLLABORATIVE TEACHER ASSESSMENT
Valerie Sartor, St Mary's University, San Antonio, Texas, USA

People are complex. Specifically, TESOL teachers are complicated souls, and those who choose this career are not only complex but also intriguing, dedicated, and adventurous folks. The basis of my assertion rests on the fact that TESOL educators and professionals often do not garner the same kind of academic respect, security, pay, or even classroom conditions as other teachers. Those who work, as I currently do, in university settings are housed in odd, ill-funded corners of the academy—sometimes in the English department, sometimes in the education or linguistics department, and sometimes independently in a non-academically accredited program, usually called the university’s intensive English program (IEP).

Currently, from the perspective of a newly appointed IEP administrator, I am constantly seeking ways to support my instructors. While thinking about how to support them, I searched the literature, specifically regarding teacher observations and assessment. Much exists on assessing students (O’Malley & Pierce, 1996) and on building rubrics to assess students (Rezaei & Lovorn, 2010), but little has been written about assessing the teachers at work in their classrooms. This area, of course, nests under teacher professional development, which is a growing and innovative field for TESOL educators (Bailey, 2001).

Professional development for TESOL educators can be problematic everywhere. I recognize three fundamental challenges: standardizing ESL and TESOL certification programs, funding on-site and off-site teacher workshops, and motivating overworked teachers to continue to learn. Standardizing certification for TESOL educators in the United States alone is formidable; overseas, accreditation becomes a site of competition between British versus American certification. Regarding funding for TESOL professional development, both on-site and off-site teacher training can be considered too costly and time-consuming for many educational institutions, which are already underfunded by their states and governments. Motivation, however, is another issue. This article addresses professional development in light of teacher assessment techniques, focusing on the need to assess teachers in ways that uplift them and stimulate improvement.

I found that the literature focused on observing and assessing teachers had several fundamental flaws. The first foible, and to me the most significant, was the lack of following the collaborative trend that has entered education in general and TESOL education in particular.

The second glitch rests on the fact that teacher anxiety, which is noted among novice teachers (Ohata, 2005), and teacher confidence in the classroom (Eslami & Fatahi, 2008) can both be related to the evaluation that the assessor gives after observing a teacher at work in the classroom. No one likes to be criticized, so how can we assess a TESOL instructor with the aim of generating excellence instead of anxiety and fear?

A third factor revolves around objectivity. Is it possible to observe a teacher once a semester and based on this observation of a teacher who is either forewarned or receives a surprise visit, actually make an accurate assessment of this person’s teaching abilities? Furthermore, should not our task be motivating more professional development rather than making judgment calls defined as assessments?

My answer to these key questions was to first develop a tool that placed equal responsibility on the assessor as well as the assessed. Second, I realized that assessment, like formative and summative assessment for students, meant that I could not complete the assessment until I had made a minimum of two, preferably three, teacher observations during the semester. Finally, I understood that I must turn the assessment into a collaborative affair to remove the sense of judgment, which creates anxiety and stress for teachers being observed.

In a nutshell, here is my compassionate + collaborative assessment strategy. First, I ask my teachers to pick three dates interspersed during the semester, times when I may visit and observe. This offers me a more holistic picture of their class and their talents, and I want to empower the teachers by letting them choose the dates. Second, I bring my assessment instrument (available on www.academia.edu), and I use it to assess what I observe, rather than trying to complete the entire form in one observation. Third, I show the teacher the preliminary observation, and we note what else I need to observe to make a holistic assessment. After all assessments are completed, the teacher and I both discuss the document from the perspective of me, as assessor, having the same responsibility as he or she, as the assessed. The assessment document is written so that the observation states What I observed followed by What feedback I can offer to support this instructor.

For example, if I observed a dominant student who took the class hostage, then it is my duty, as the assessor, to create a PowerPoint and mini presentation about domineering students to offer to my teachers at our staff meeting and to post it on our wiki, encouraging collaborative comments. This allows everyone to address a challenge that has been presented and to support each other collaboratively. It also takes the stress off the individual teacher. I make sure to vary the times of posting the mini workshops to protect the privacy of my teachers (unless given permission by the assessed). In the future, I hope that I can offer funds for teachers to peer review and peer assess each other so that this task does not rest on my authority only.

References

Bailey, K. M. (2001). Teacher preparation and development. TESOL Quarterly, 35, 609–616.

Eslami, Z. R., & Fatahi, A. (2008). Teachers' sense of self-efficacy, English proficiency, and instructional strategies: A study of nonnative EFL teachers in Iran. TESL-EJ, 11(4), n4.

Ohata, K. (2005). Language anxiety from the teacher’s perspective: Interviews with seven experienced ESL/EFL teachers. Journal of Language and Learning, 3(1), 133–155.

O'Malley, J. M., & Pierce, L. V. (1996). Authentic assessment for English language learners: Practical approaches for teachers. Boston, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Rezaei, A. R., & Lovorn, M. (2010). Reliability and validity of rubrics for assessment through writing. Assessing Writing, 15(1), 18–39.


Dr. Valerie Sartor is a former Global TEFL Fulbright Exchange Scholar who worked in Russian Siberia as a teacher trainer and scholar. She received her doctorate from the University of New Mexico in 2014.

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